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County sets new budget; board elects to nix raises

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners approved a $60 million budget Tuesday that does not include a raise for themselves.

The commissioners ag-reed to forfeit their annual salary increase for 2009.

"I don't think it's time to give ourselves a raise," said Commissioner Dean Shuck.

The county is expecting to take a hit in local government aid as part of the state's budget-reduction efforts. Besides working with less revenue, the commissioners are trying to keep spending in check.

"This does not look like a year to take an increase," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

County employees received a 3 percent cost-of-living salary increase in 2009, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

But the commissioners unanimously agreed to keep their own 2008 annual salary of $28,140 in place for 2009. Their stipend for attending various committee meetings will remain at $70.

Commissioners are also compensated for travel expenses.

If they had approved a 3 percent raise, their salary would have been at $28,984.20

In 2008, the salary for the commissioners represented a 3 percent increase, which is what employees received that year. In 2006 and 2007 the commissioners raised their salary about 5 percent each year.

Chairman Richard Larson hinted that if budget problems get worse, the salary freeze the commissioners are taking could be something that county departments and employees could expect in the future.

It could be the "trend for the future that others may possibly follow," Larson said.

Most county employees have union contracts in place for several years.

The commissioners' salary freeze is a "gesture" to show they are aware of the tough budget times and are willing to make concessions and changes. While not wanting to "push a panic button," Larson said he hopes the commissioners' action will get others "thinking about saving a dollar."

There will likely be more changes to the 2009 county budget after the Legislature takes action to trim the state budget.

What was certified Tuesday will change in 30 to 60 days "because of the economy," Kleindl said.

Larson said if the state reduces the county aid, the county will have to reduce spending.

"This was a tough year," said Larson, who thanked Kleindl for making multiple revisions of the budget and for getting plans in place for additional cuts, pending state action.

"We're looking at it the right way," Larson said.

The commissioners had a brief discussion about the merits of appointing, rather than electing, some constitutional officers such as recorder, auditor/treasurer and surveyor.

There are no minimum standards of education or professional training that are required for someone to run and hold those offices.

Kleindl said the current system is working well in Kandiyohi County and could be left alone. But he said if the county wants to consider pursuing the change, it should be studied if action is to be finalized by the time the current officers' terms expire in 2010.

He explained the different steps that can be taken, including special legislation or putting the issue to the vote of the people. Residents can also call for a referendum. Public hearings are part of all of the options.

There was little discussion, and not much interest expressed by the commissioners, to explore the options, but several commissioners said they would not support asking for special legislation because it would circumvent the public process that an election would provide.

Kleindl said 25 counties have taken action to make some of the constitutional officers appointed positions.

Kandiyohi County is apparently one of just four counties that still elects a surveyor. All the rest appoint that position.

The commissioners agreed to do some research and revisit the topic again in January.

In other action:

- A contract for $1,373,946 with Motorola was approved for installation of six dispatch units and to install equipment on two towers that will be part of the county's new 800-megahertz emergency radio system. The county bonded for the project earlier this year.

- The commissioners openly discussed their job review of Kleindl, giving him high grades for his work and saying he had exceeded their expectations. This was the first time the commissioners had ever conducted a job review of the county administrator position. Kleindl had requested the annual review so that he could gauge if he was helping the county meet its goals.

- The commissioners approved a conditional use permit for sanitary sewer stabilization ponds for the Blomkest/Svea area, with the condition that trees be planted to protect a nearby landowner. Commissioner Dennis Peterson said the sewer system was needed for the community but said the project engineer should have done a better job to communicate and negotiate with property owners who live close to the 12-acre site where the ponds will be built.

- The commissioners approved a 3 percent increase in park fees and adopted changes to the policy regarding making and paying for park reservations.

- A $420,000 two-year state grant was approved for the CEE-VI Drug Task Force. The CEE-VI (Cooperative Enforcement Effort) Drug Task Force is a multijurisdictional drug investigation unit. Several area counties and cities participate.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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